July 17th, 2017

The Goddesses Among Us

jmw-90thbirthdaygregsmithdetailThis post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select, on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

At the time of his death, Professor John M. Ward (the donor of our Ward Collection) was writing a book on the history of social dance, from the 16th century through Dirty Dancing. His research was painstaking, and he had been working on this project off and on for many years. With this in mind, many of his purchases reflected this interest, and one particular purchase was close to his heart: what locally we have come to call The Ward Manuscript. In honor of the professor, I’ve chosen this little manuscript volume for our current exhibit, Open House 75.

Table of contents, the Ward Manuscript

Table of contents for the Ward Manuscript, listing The goddesses as the first dance.

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July 13th, 2017

Collections Now Available for Research: July

Houghton Library is pleased to announce that the following collections now have descriptive finding aids and are available for research in the library’s reading room.

Alan Ansen Papers, circa 1938-2006 (MS Am 3104) – processed by Adrien Hilton

Duke Atteberry Joke Collection, 1920-1960 (MS Thr 1627) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Emerson Family Photographs and Miniatures, circa 1850-1880 (MS Am 2911) – processed by Susan Wyssen

Stephen B. Fassett Correspondence, 1954-1979 (MS Am 3133) – processed by Christina Davis, uploaded by Adrien Hilton

Richard F. Fuller papers, 1921-1949 (MS Am 3132) – processed by Ashley Nary

Werner Wilhelm Jaeger Papers, circa 1898-1970 (MS Ger 323) – processed by Daniel Ramseier, edited and uploaded by Adrien Hilton

José María Castañé Collection of Sergei Smirnov Photographs, circa 1944-1999 (MS Russ 136) – processed by Michael Austin and Irina Klyagin

Ludlow-Santo Domingo Collection of Lobby Cards, 1960s-1980s (MS Span 179) – processed by Elise Ramsey

Marsha Norman Papers, 1947-2011 (MS Thr 1613) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Jerry Schatzberg Papers, circa 1950-2016 (MS Am 3134) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Woodberry Poetry Room Collection of Painting and Drawings, 1954-1982 (MS Am 3120) – processed by Adrien Hilton

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Costume Designs for Theater, Ballet and Opera, 1926-2001 (MS Thr 1628) – processed by Irina Klyagin

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson collection of Theater, Dance and Music, circa 1700-2009 (MS Thr 1559) – processed by Jen Lyons

July 10th, 2017

From Fan Mail to Farsi: How Fan Support Made A Book Relevant

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

Fan mail is not usually considered worthy of exhibition. In the Gore Vidal Papers, the letters of celebrities live amongst those of literary and political figures of the 20th century: Tennessee Williams, Susan Sarandon, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Anaïs Nin, Elaine Dundy, Paul Bowles, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Plimpton, John F. Kennedy, and so many others. Because of these correspondents, Vidal’s archive has been called a “window to the 20th century” – so why fan mail for an exhibition?

Photograph of Gore Vidal in Guatemala, 1947.

Gore Vidal in 1947. MS Am 2350 (4319)

As soon as Gore Vidal (1925-2012) became a known writer, the fan mail began to pour in, especially after 1948 when he published his third novel, The City and the Pillar, significant because it is recognized as the first post-World War II novel with a gay protagonist portrayed in a sympathetic manner. It has been called one of the “definitive war-influenced gay novels,” being one of the few books of its period dealing directly with male homosexuality.

Cover sheet for the typescript to The City and The Pillar, with dedication "For the memory of J.T." and penciled in title and dates and places of composition.

Cover sheet to the typescript for The City and The Pillar, 1946. MS Am 2350 (2)

But the critical acclaim was not immediate. Even though it was among the few “gay novels” reprinted in inexpensive paperback form as early as the 1950s, The New York Times would not advertise it. Vidal was practically blacklisted after the book’s publication, to the extent that no major newspaper or magazine would review any of his novels for six years. This forced him to write several subsequent books under pseudonyms, such as Edgar Box. He would later resume using his true name with bestsellers such as Burr (1973) and Lincoln (1984), and publishing countless essays in publications such as Esquire, The New York Review of Books, and Playboy. But all the while, as evidenced by his fan mail, The City and The Pillar built a following despite its critical fallout.

Numerous examples of this fan mail are published in Vidal’s book, Snapshots in History’s Glare . “[F]or the first time, I have found a character…to whom I find myself similar,” wrote one. “As a homosexual, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” wrote another. The academic and pioneer sex researcher Alfred Kinsey thanked Mr. Vidal for his “work in the field.”

And finally the letter I chose for the Houghton 75th anniversary exhibition, whose South African author wrote, “I cannot tell you how much it meant to me…”

Fan letter to Gore Vidal, dated 31st July, 1950

MS Am 2350 (2)

They were not alone. The book, among others, was chipping away at the walls holding back gay writers and other disenfranchised communities. It was evidence to publishers that there was a market for such work, as it sold very well. But it was also simply an inspired novel about the human experience, a great Bildungsroman.

The City and the Pillar has been published in countless editions in over 30 languages, and is still in print today. It continues to spread to new cultures, and to evolve. Most recently, it was translated into Farsi and Turkish in 2005 and 2008. In 1965, Vidal released an updated version of the novel titled The City and the Pillar Revised. (While most modern printings contain the updated text, they retain the original title The City and the Pillar.) But its success would not have been possible without the support of fans with whom Vidal struck a very personal chord.

Jennifer Lyons, Manuscript Cataloger, contributed this post.

July 6th, 2017

A century of John Milton Ward

Today, John Milton Ward, the donor of the Harvard Theatre Collection’s Ward Collection, would have been 100 years old. Having spent most of my formative Harvard years working with him, I’d like to take a moment to share some thoughts on this auspicious occasion. I began working for John Ward in 2002, so his professor and musicologist personas were mostly behind him (though he never altogether shed his role as teacher). He studied composition privately with Darius Milhaud and studied musicology at the University of Washington (M.M. 1942), Columbia University, and New York University (Ph.D., 1953, The Vihuela de mano and its Music). The professors he mentioned most often to me were the Renaissance scholars Otto Gombosi and Gustave Reese, and musicologist Curt Sachs. From 1947 to 1953 Ward was an instructor at Michigan State University and from 1953 to 1955 an assistant and then an associate professor at the University of Illinois. In 1955 he joined the faculty of Harvard University, where he became William Powell Mason Professor of Music in 1961.

John Ward in 1940, with Eileen McCall, a music professor at San Francisco State College.

John Ward in 1940, with Eileen McCall, a music professor at San Francisco State College.

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July 3rd, 2017

The Road to Revolution

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

Paul Revere's signature on subscription sheets protesting the Townsend Acts

I have handled thousands of magnificent objects over my thirty-plus years as a rare book cataloger, but nothing comes close to finding this national treasure in Houghton’s stacks a few years ago. A response to the Townsend Act’s tariffs, these subscription sheets record the earliest call for colonial Americans to join together publicly to boycott British goods. Historians have long known about the boycott and the printed rally to arms. However, until now, scholars had no idea how many colonists had pledged to participate nor who they were. What was uncovered in the stacks were eight copies of the printed announcement – followed by the signatures of over six hundred who signed onto the boycott, including Paul Revere, James Otis, and John Wheatley. For me, one of the most thrilling aspects is that sixty-five women signed. These sheets will undoubtedly prove essential documents for future study of consumerism and the origins of the Revolution.

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June 30th, 2017

‘John Lithgow’ Exhibit Extended

John Lithgow: Actor as Artist, a look at the actor’s talents for drawing as well as drama, has been extended through Thursday, September 7, due to popular demand.


While on campus this spring, Lithgow stopped by to take in the display and to pose with a caricature of himself by Al Hirschfeld from the 1988 Broadway production of M. Butterfly. Lithgow, too, caricatured the show’s entire cast—himself included—in one of the many cast drawings currently displayed on the Library’s ground floor. Join us for this encore performance.

John Lithgow enrolled at Harvard in 1963, intent on becoming a painter. Even as a professional actor, he has never lost interest in the visual arts. To honor Lithgow as this year’s recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, Houghton Library presents an exhibition of the actor’s drawings, featuring designs for student productions at the Loeb Drama Center and caricatures depicting his career on Broadway and in television, including memorable performances in M. Butterfly, the hit sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Netflix’s The Crown.

June 28th, 2017

Ortelius’ World

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

Plate I from Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570)

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Plate I: Typus Orbum Terrarum, 1570. NC5.Or850.570tℓ

First published in 1570, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is generally regarded as the first modern atlas, being a comprehensive suite of maps derived from empirical observations and issued together as a single work. Edited and published by the Flemish geographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), with plates engraved by Frans Hogenberg, the Theatrum was a great success, going through over twenty-five editions in various languages. With each edition, new maps were added, and old ones altered or replaced as further European “voyages of discovery” filled in the expanses once designated terra incognita. The world map shown here is derived from earlier maps by Giacomo Gastaldi and others. Note, among many other erroneous features, the inclusion of the fictitious north Atlantic island of Friesland and the enormous southern continent of Terra Australis. Buyers of the atlas could choose either a plain, uncolored version, or with the maps colored by hand, as in this copy from the 1574 Latin edition (Ortelius himself had started out as a map colorist, and for many years employed his sister Anne in this capacity).

With so many variations in edition, issue, and state, atlases like the Theatrum are notoriously complex to collate and describe, which I suppose is part of the appeal they hold for me as a book cataloger. On a more personal level, I have an affinity for Belgian things, having lived for some time in Antwerp, and, before joining the librarian profession I worked for a rare book dealer who specialized in atlases, so my interest in Ortelius is sentimental as well as academic. This particular copy, however, will always have special significance to me. Donated to Houghton and duly assigned an accession number in 1950, this treasure of a book was somehow never cataloged until 2013, when, in the course of some unrelated errand in the stacks, I happened to identify it. It was a thrilling find, a day at Houghton I will always remember, and when the call went out for staff to contribute to the exhibition Open House 75, I knew at once what to choose.

Noah Sheola, Bibliographic Assistant, Houghton Library, contributed this post.

June 26th, 2017

Edison Bulb in the Spotlight

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

Theater visionary Edward Gordon Craig foretold a future when all the elements of performance—including lights—would play their parts as well as actors. A minor player in a major role, this Edison bulb from the Harvard Theatre Collection tells the story of the first electrified playhouse in America.

Edison bulb from the Boston Bijou Theatre

Edison bulb from the Boston Bijou Theatre, 1882. MS Thr 432 (40)

The invention of a practical incandescent lamp ushered in the modern era of stage lighting. In 1882 London’s Savoy Theatre was the first to make use of electric lights onstage in a specially-designed production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Iolanthe.

With the show set to open in Boston three weeks later, theatergoers bid at auction for premium seats in the newly renovated Bijou Theatre. Edison himself supervised the installation of over 600 lights throughout the house. Over half were installed behind the auditorium’s distinctive, horseshoe proscenium. On opening night, the new lights were the talk of the town, outshining even the cast.

Boston Bijou Theatre interior

Lithograph of the Bijou’s interior, 1883. TCS 66 (20)

The scene above captures the excitement of the American premiere. The lighted sets for Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster left the audience in a daze of wonder. “Never have we seen a steadier and softer light in a theatre than that given by Edison’s incandescent burners,” the Boston Globe reported. Besides its obvious safety features, electric light cleansed theaters of the odor and bluish tint put off by gas lamps.

The image also depicts the Oriental style of the Bijou’s sumptuous interior, featuring a Moorish ceiling and chandeliers left over from an order for the Khedive of Egypt. Today, a stripped down façade on Washington Street between the present-day Boston Opera House and the Paramount Center is all that remains of the Bijou’s former opulence.

That, and Edison’s bulb. Since its donation in 1975, this hand-blown beauty has seldom, if ever, been exhibited. Stored away from bumping elbows, it is part of the records of the Boston Bijou Theatre, which includes materials relating to the company’s day-to-day management. We owe to Edison’s innovation the thrilling anticipation before a performance as the house lights fade to black and transport us to another time and place.

Dale Stinchcomb, Curatorial Assistant in the Harvard Theatre Collection, contributed this post.

June 22nd, 2017

Beyond Beyond Words

In the fall of 2016, the major exhibition Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections dazzled the press and the public alike. Divided across three venues, 260 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books from nineteen Boston-area collections shone on gorgeous display. It was the largest exhibition of its kind ever held in North America and was attended by almost 52,000 visitors across the three sites: Houghton Library, Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. beyond_wordsResearchers gathered for a three-day symposium based on the artifacts; the public was welcomed to a number of hands-on events and lectures; and a luxurious print catalog was produced with full-color plates and contributions from 83 scholars. The exhibition was featured in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post.

Along with all of this remarkable effort, the curators also created a digital catalog on the website for the exhibit, beyondwords2016.org. Since the final exhibit shuttered in January, the site has languished. It represents, however, a remarkable resource for researchers, teachers, and hobbyists. As a Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellow this summer, my task is to update the digital catalog. In my first week here, I focused on making sure that all 249 entries had a thumbnail image­—I added more than 75 images!–and fixing or adding links to additional digital images. While this has resulted in a more functional website, much remains to be done.

We plan to upload descriptions and bibliography for the manuscripts, and eventually to add the print catalog write-ups to the digital entries. We hope to work with our web developer to improve search engine optimization and make the website more user-friendly. All of this will help Beyond Words continue to be a model of collaboration and sharing of information in the scholarly community and, well, beyond. Stay tuned for further developments!

Hannah Weaver, Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures, contributed this post.

June 19th, 2017

Byron’s Corsair: A Triptych

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

1826_milan_corsairThe British Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) followed up his successful Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) with a series of popular Oriental Tales, inspired in part by his early adventures in the Levant.  He composed and revised the third of these tales, The Corsair (1814), in just one month, and the first edition sold an unprecedented 10,000 copies on its day of publication.  Already a lion in London literary circles, Byron was out-of-town when his jubilant publisher John Murray wrote, “I really think that I may venture to congratulate your Lordship upon the Publication of a Poem wch has set up your fame beyond all assailment – You have no notion of the sensation which it has occasioned and my only regret that you were not present to witness it.”  Popular demand called for eight further editions in quick succession, bringing the total circulation of The Corsair to 25,000 copies through 1815.

The Corsair reached an even wider audience through several contemporary melodramatic adaptations, in prose or written for the stage.  One such prose adaptation was Conrad and Medora; or, The Pirate’s Isle (ca. 1814), a chapbook printed and sold by Dean and Munday, a London firm that specialized in cheap editions of popular literature intended to reach the masses.  The edition featured a crudely hand-colored frontispiece illustrating the dramatic moment when the pirate Conrad discovers “the lifeless body of his beloved Medora” after his long absence:

He snatch’d the lamp – its light will answer all –

It quits his grasp, expiring in the fall.


Frontispiece, Conrad and Medora (London, ca. 1814)                                       *44W-1217 – Gift of W. B. O. Field, 1944

In 1819 Murray was contemplating his own illustrated edition of Byron’s works.  He commissioned the painter and book illustrator Richard Westall (1765-1836) to create a new suite of images to accompany several poems, including The Corsair.  (Six years earlier, Westall had captured the world-weary poet at the height of his fame in an oil portrait now held by the National Portrait Gallery.)  When Byron in Italy received a set of Westall’s steel-engraved illustrations, he signaled his approval in a letter to Murray: “the brush has beat the poetry.”


Lord Byron, Works, v. 3 (London, 1821)                                                     *EC8.B9968.B821w2 – Amy Lowell fund, 1964

For Open House 75, I selected an illuminated 1826 edition of The Corsair, bound in black velvet and printed on vellum in an edition of no more than two or three copies by the Societá Tipografica dei Classici Italiani in Milan.  The illuminator, Giambattista Gigola (1769-1841), received his artistic training in France and is best known for exquisite miniatures achieved in a neo-classical style.  For The Corsair, he produced a brilliant frontispiece after Westall’s 1813 portrait of Byron and nine full-page illuminations heightened in gold leaf to accompany the text, each within an intricate border; the artist also provided six ornate headpieces and three tailpieces.


Lord Byron, The Corsair (Milan, 1826)                                                                                          Typ 825.26.2527 – Bequest of Philip Hofer, 1984

I first came upon this magnificent example of “European Britannica” (translations of English literature and books about England published on the continent) in the bequest of Philip Hofer, the founding curator of the library’s Printing and Graphic Arts Department.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s I had the privilege of cataloging a substantial part of the Hofer bequest under the direction of my colleague Dennis Marnon.  As an erstwhile Byron collector, I find it somewhat paradoxical that this deluxe Milanese edition of The Corsair and the more homely Conrad and Medora chapbook are today equally unobtainable, each surviving in only a few copies.  The triptych of images in this post is intended to suggest a broader range of visual resources available at Houghton Library to those interested in Romantic era book illustration.

Thanks to Peter X. Accardo, Programs Coordinator, for contributing this post.

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